As people across the Macalester College campus start to focus on final exams, the men’s swim and dive team has a chance to sit back and reflect at the season’s unofficial halfway point. Nearly two months after they began the 2017/18 season by hosting the Macalester Pentathlon, the Scots find themselves in the middle of a nearly-month-long lull, designed to give them a chance to finish out the semester and then enjoy the holidays.
When the Scots return from Winter Break, the team will have a significantly different look. One of the problems the swim and dive program faces year-to-year is that any athletes who want to study away have to do so in season. Due to the length of the season, which has its curtain-raising meet in October and closes with the Conference meet in February, there is no “off” semester the way there is for most other teams on campus. Thus, students are forced to choose between missing the end of the season after going through preseason and several meets alongside their teammates or miss out on three months of preparation and try to jump into competitive swimming midseason, immediately after their time abroad concludes.
The study away phenomenon will soon hit the Scots, as three of the team’s four juniors. Paul Reischmann ’19, Taylor Durbin ’19 and Sean Cheng ’19, will all miss out on the second half of the season. According to Durbin, knowing that he would be gone after the semester came to an end was “a little bit weird,” especially after going through the teambuilding and bonding process that occurs over the first weeks and months in any team. To cope with that, he and his teammates came together, and “looked to peak” before their season came to an end.
On any team, losing three players mid-season would deal a difficult blow. That the Swim and Dive team has just 11 members makes the blow all the greater. All four swimmers that spoke with The Mac Weekly, Durbin, Sam Dyer ’19, Ryan Cirillo ’20 and Gabe Berman ’21, mentioned the difficulty it will pose to the team. That those three plan to leave means the team will lose some of its elder leaders, as well as some its most talented swimmers. In particular, they will miss Reischmann, the school record holder in the mile and the reigning MIAC mile champion.
But any difficult situation breeds opportunity, and that holds true for the team as well. Losing the older swimmers will force the younger ones to step up, and look to qualify for what Dyer referred to as the season’s “peak moment:” the MIAC meet itself. In order to qualify, swimmers must hit a base time in any given event. Once they hit that, they can “compete in anything else they want,” Dyer said. Once the second half of the season gets going, those who have yet to qualify will “begin focusing one event in particular,” so they then have the opportunity to swim multiple events at the conference meet, he explained.
In addition to the opportunities afforded to the younger swimmers, the Scots have an extremely talented diver in Kieran Cuddy ’21, who nearly broke the school record in the 1-meter dive at the St. Thomas Invitational on Dec. 2. Cuddy has taken no time to adjust to college diving, notching first place finishes in the 1 and 3-meter dives at the Macalester Pentathlon, Hamline Invitational, Roger Ahlman Invitational, and Grace Goblirsch Invitational.
His success has impressed his teammates, and Berman put it best: “Kieran Cuddy… has had an amazing year,” he said.
In addition to talented youth, the team has a well-developed, supportive culture. Although losing more than 25% of a team in any sport at any level would prove difficult, by relying on the support system they have in place, the Scots should manage to adapt to the different situation.
“Of course I can’t speak for everybody, but I think an important element of our team dynamic is just unity and mutual support,” Cirillo said. “Last year someone saw online that, to be healthy, it’s important to get seven ‘positive touches’ every day. Naturally we all started giving each other positive touches. It’s primarily a joke but I think it’s also just a great way to show each other support.”
While it might feel like the season will never resume, before they know it, the Scots lighter workouts will end, they will have made it through finals and be back on campus over J-Term, getting back to work. To try and reduce the rust that builds through exam season and the holidays, the team will travel to Florida over New Year’s for a week-long training camp filled with lots of time spent in the pool and a meet against St. Olaf.
“We all love going to Fort Lauderdale over Winter Break,” Cirillo said. “On paper it doesn’t sound like a great deal: four hours in the pool and an hour of lifting each day, going to bed at 9 p.m. every night, having an early meet, eating ham and cheese everyday for lunch, you name it. But somehow the team atmosphere is just always so positive and there’s always this great feeling of camaraderie.”
After that, they’ll look to get back into their best shape before the spring semester starts with three meets in January. Then, all will look to peak at the MIAC meet, which runs from Feb. 15-17 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.